He's called the Southside Serial Killer, but his bloody work has extended beyond South-Central Los Angeles.
Indeed, five of the 17 women whose deaths have been attributed to the serial killer since Sept. 4, 1983, have been found in the South Bay--in Gardena, Inglewood, Lawndale and Lennox. Police officers from Gardena and Inglewood are assisting the 49-member Southside Serial Killer Task Force set up by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department patrols Lawndale and Lennox.
Like the task force detectives, the South Bay investigators said, they are frustrated by their failure to crack the case and are concerned that they are getting fewer leads from the public. "We would love to solve the case, but, yeah, it's frustrating," said Gardena Detective William C. Moreno, a 16-year police veteran. "And then you turn on the TV and there's another (slaying). Obviously, we need public support."
In the South Bay, investigators believe it was the serial killer who:
- Strangled 28-year-old Patricia D. Coleman on New Year's Day, 1984, and dumped her body in Inglewood's Darby Park.
- Stabbed and strangled Gayle Marie Rousell, 40, and left her body in the carport of a Gardena apartment complex on Nov. 6, 1984.
- Stabbed Shelly Walters Hall, 31, whose body was found near Inglewood's Centinela Park on March 20, 1985.
- Strangled 37-year-old Myrtle Collier, whose body was found in Lawndale on Nov. 6, 1985.
- Strangled Tammy Lynn Scretchings-Taylor, 22, and left her body in a Lennox alley on Jan. 4, 1986.
All had arrest records for prostitution or were believed to be prostitutes, investigators have said.
Since Rousell's body was discovered, Gardena police have received an average of one tip a week about the serial killer, usually a possible sighting of a suspect based on a composite sketch. None has panned out, but all must be checked.
"You get a lot of people who call and say that they saw this guy," Moreno said. "They actually believe they saw this guy. They're quite sincere about it and they give us a license number, and we follow up on the lead."
When he has time, Moreno patrols stretches of 145th Street and Vermont Avenue where prostitutes often congregate. He and other detectives working on the cases say a major obstacle has been the reluctance of prostitutes to volunteer information.
"You get a couple of them and they tell me, 'Hey, I might have seen that guy a couple of weeks ago.' But then the concern dies."
Only 'Some Tidbits'
Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Frank M. O'Farrell, a member of the task force, agreed that prostitutes have not done much to help.
"They do give us some tidbits," said O'Farrell, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who joined the task force after coming off the Night Stalker serial killer investigation. But, he added, "I can say that we haven't had a tremendous amount of response concerning Collier or Scretchings.
"They were typical of these ladies in that they lead a very quiet life. It's a very difficult case to work. A lot of it has to do with the types of lives these girls are living. You feel really helpless."
One acknowledged prostitute interviewed in Gardena said she has called investigators when she saw a possible suspect.
"If I see the guy who looks like him, then baby, I'm not going to play with him, I'll call the cops," she said.
Nevertheless, the detectives continue to plead for the prostitutes' assistance and caution them to watch out for each other.
"I tell them that if they see another go into a car to 'Get the license number and call me, especially if you haven't seen her in a couple of days,' " O'Farrell said.
In fact, not all has gone badly for the detectives. O'Farrell said clues obtained from residents and prostitutes have resulted in the arrests of rape suspects in other cases.
Margaret Prescod, a Los Angeles woman who founded the Black Coalition Fighting Serial Murders and has been a frequent critic of the task force, said it should include the detectives from Inglewood and Gardena.
"We haven't been able to get clear what the working relationship is between the task force and the Inglewood and Gardena police departments," said Prescod, whose organization has distributed scores of leaflets in Gardena and Inglewood.
She disputed the police response that more detectives would only complicate the investigation.
The South Bay detectives, however, strongly defended the investigation and the number of officers assigned to the task force. They denied the suggestion of Prescod and others that the victims' race--most were black--and life style had reduced the vigor of the investigation.
"They're very wrong," Moreno said of the critics. "It's definitely not a lack of work by the investigators. I've never seen anything like it. There couldn't be any more done."
"I think the number of investigators is appropriate," said Inglewood Detective Russell C. Enyeart. He and Detective Larry Marino are investigating the murders in Inglewood.
A combined reward of $35,000 has been offered by the county and the city of Los Angeles for information leading to a conviction in the case. A suspect has been described as a black male, 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches tall, with black curly hair, between 28 and 35 years old.
Investigators said they are determined and optimistic about solving the case.
"Down the road we're going to get him," O'Farrell said. "And when we get him I want to say to him, 'Hey sucker, you didn't get away with it.' "